Huey UH-1H

Bell Huey UH1H Tail Number: 72-21509 G-UH1H


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Latest News > Woodvale Rally 2006

Woodvale Rally 2006.

A report by Simon Johnson

Talking one evening with Phil whilst out for a beer or two he said that he was going to take the Huey to Woodvale and did I fancy flying in with him, I didn't need very long to work out my response.

His plan was to fly in on the Friday and either land close by to the space allocated to us and then move the Huey on its ground wheels or to hover taxi it over to the spot. This decision could only be made on the day and would be determined by how close tents/marquees and other fairly lose items were to the affected area of the Huey's extremely powerful downwash.

Huey on display 2
The Huey on Display

We had been requested to put the machine on display with the Military Vehicles Trust vehicles which prompted Phil to ask if I wanted to take my James ML. Now there was a novel idea; an air portable motorbike being airlifted in the back of a Huey. Something I doubt it ever did, as my research has drawn a total blank on the bikes history.

We decided to travel fairly lightly, taking two small pup tents so we could camp close by to the machine. If needs be, and the weather turned nasty, we could always sleep in the back of it! Come Friday the fourth I loaded the bike in the jeep trailer and the rest of the gear in the back of the MB and set off to Phil’s place just outside Blackpool. Once there, we manhandled the bike into the cargo bay and strapped it in and then secured around it our survival gear for the weekend. We had what was necessary but not much else! The two M60 machine guns were attached to the posts and the retaining nut and bolts were locked and wired.

The Campers
The Campers

Happy everything was secure Phil did his walk round pre flight check. He checked the fuel from the drain cock from underneath the helicopter and proceeded to check the security of wiper blades, doors, hatches, drive shafts, oil levels, blades, control arms, balance bars etc etc…. It's not as simple as getting in the car, turning the key and driving off! Once he was happy with everything, he put a call into Blackpool Air Traffic Control to say that we would be flying to Woodvale and that he would make contact with them over the radio when we were ready for take off. We took off the engine protection cover and untied the main and tail rotors. We then swung the main rotors round three times to circulate some oil around the system.


Bradley the Chef
Bradley the Chef!

Happy all was ok a call was put in to RAF Woodvale to check the weather situation. My son Bradley, a glider pilot and trained parachutist, was already there as our ground crew. He gave us the all clear weather wise, but was still negotiating with the aero modellers who were not being particular co-operative about bringing their flying machines down to the ground. We certainly didn’t want anything that small flying around during our approach. We received his call some 20 minutes later saying the modellers had been given their final ultimatum and that they were bringing in their models  because if they didn’t they would have to live with the consequences of the downwash from the 48 foot long rotors! We climbed aboard and Phil set about the start up procedure, checking the myriad of switches in the overhead console and the instrument binnacle were all set to their respective positions. He then checked the movements of the pedals, cyclic and collective levers and the switches on each of them. Once happy, he switched on the battery, checking that there was enough power in it to take the engine through the start up sequence. The battery has to be

capable of turning not just the engine but also the enormous rotor head and rotors up to forty percent of the power output of the engine. If it can't and the start sequence has to be aborted then a fire can start in the engine which can mean a very expensive repair bill. So something to be avoided at all costs.

We received our final call from Bradley to say the air space was clear and we were ok to fly. Everything was all set. Phil made the final adjustments and set the throttle on the collective head and pressed the starter button. The already noisy cabin, with the battery switched on, took on another level of noise as the starter cranked the turbine over. At fifteen percent of power the centrifugal clutch kicks in and the enormous rotor blades slowly begin to move. Quickly they gain speed and the gauge showing engine power output quickly rises until the all important forty percent is reached. The starter button is released and there is a large sigh of relief, now Phil re-adjusts the throttle and rechecks his T's and P's as everything is brought up to operating temperatures and pressures. A radio check is put in to Blackpool Air Traffic Control to tell them of our imminent departure from Wesham to RAF Woodvale. Everything is set and Phil lifts the Huey into the air and sets his course for Southport.


Huey on Display
The Huey on Display

Flying time is a mere eight minutes and 24 seconds according to our calculations, by road the same trip would take over an hour. The flight was uneventful and no sooner had we taken off we were talking to Bradley at Woodvale ready for our descent to the airfield. We flew down the beach at 1200 feet and at around 110 knots. We banked to the left and then right to line up on the main runway so we could check out the lie of the land and spot Bradley in his high-vis jacket and to let those on the ground that had heard us some six minutes earlier but couldn't see us get a good look. We circled round and prepared to land. Bradley guided us onto the stub of runway 17 which was the allotted landing ground on the far side of the main runway due to the proximity of the model aircraft and various marquees. A few of the modellers made a dash for their planes as the reality of what they had been warned about became a reality. Once on the ground the T’s and P’s are checked and then the clock started for the two minute wind down time to let the hot end of the engine cool gradually. After the two minutes the engine can be shut down and then you wait for the rotors to stop turning before anyone can approach the machine. The wind down time is sometimes referred to as the cocktail time as those inside get well and truly shaken, but definitely not stirred!!

The tie down rope is hooked to the end of one of the rotors and tied to the stinger on the tail. We attached the ground wheels to the rear of the skids, and unloaded the bike to reduce the weight in the nose of the Huey.  When the James emerged it brought smiles to the faces of those around us. I'm not sure they were for the James or the fact that it had been airlifted to the show. A team of willing volunteers came across to the helicopter to help us push it to where it was going to stay for the weekend.

Phil and the show secratary
Phil with the show Secretary

We needed to be as close to the Huey as possible so we created a suitable space on the grass for our tents. In true British tradition the gas cooker was found and the kettle put on. Whilst the kettle boiled we unloaded the tents and started to erect them. Not a hard job as they were two man pup tents. Happy our sleeping quarters were sorted we could sit down for a drink and plan what was next. The decision was made for us as the railings to set up a security cordon around Huey 509 arrived, so we set about putting them up, again with willing helpers. After a good natter with those around us we sat down to eat our meal and have a few beers. Bradley had departed home but his mate Adam from the Air Cadets and now serving with the RAF stayed with us and volunteered to sleep in the machine as our security measure.

We were up bright and early, too early, on Saturday morning. We unloaded the rest of our gear from the back of the Huey. Anything we didn't need was put in the tents out of sight. The inside of the Huey was kitted out with the stars and stripes around the gearbox housing, helmets and equipment placed on the seats, and finally the ammo belts were fitted to the M60's. I asked Paula and Dan Jeffries if they would like to adopt the James for the weekend as I couldn't keep an eye on it, they very kindly agreed. Everyone was ready to face the crowds.

The weather was looking ok and from the moment the gates opened to them closing we were besieged with people keen to learn about this remarkable machine. The three of us Phil, Adam and I had our work cut out talking to everyone, but our voices just about lasted. Many came up to us and said they'd heard we were at the Woodvale event so had made the journey especially to see the helicopter which was very flattering. None went away disappointed, well, except they all want to fly in it or at least hear and see it fly.

Amongst all this, local papers came to take photos and Granada TV turned up to interview Phil. At the end of a long hot day MV owners around us made us feel welcome and took pity on us having been stood for eight hours solid talking non-stop. It makes you wonder what on earth you can say for so long. Adam departed for a night out and Bradley returned so we settled down to cook our tea and have a drink or two. Bradley this time volunteered to sleep in the back of 509. Unfortunately he had a rather disturbed night with people in the wee small hours trying to climb in it. They got the shock of their lives when a voice from inside the machine asked them if they needed any help. They soon scarpered!

Bradley asleep in the Huey
Bradley Asleep in the Huey


Simon talking to the crowd
Simon talking to the crowd

Sunday dawned brightish but like Saturday it got hotter as the day progressed. After a fine cooked breakfast we headed of for a shower courtesy of the Merseyside ASU who were eager to come and have a look at the Huey, something they did a little later in the day. Sunday like Saturday was heaving with visitors. We once again were amazed at the number of people who wanted to see this iconic machine in the 'flesh' so to speak. More newspaper photographers turned up as did the BBC from Manchester.Earlier in the morning Paula Jeffries asked if Phil and I would be able to get away from the Huey for a quarter of an hour at three o'clock. My wife and her Belgian relatives had come to the show, and so with Bradley and Adam on hand, we left them to hold the fort.  Not sure what to expect we trotted over to the MVT tent

for what turned out to be an awards ceremony! To my surprise my James got an award though I felt a bit of a fraud as it won best Military Bike in Show. Well there was only one! But to Phil's astonishment he got a plaque, which is awarded for the greatest distance travelled, but on this occasion it was awarded for a 'vehicle' that arrived under it's own power from the sky. Other awards went to a Champ and a clutch of Bedfords. Well done to all those who received awards, well deserved every one.

After the shock of our success we returned to the Huey to start preparing it to fly out as soon after the model aircraft had done their re-enactment of the Battle of Britain, with some pretty impressive pyros going off on the ground and anti aircraft fire going up. We loaded the tent and the rest of the gear in the machine except for the bike and the ground wheels. At five o’clock we called Blackpool who warned of a weather front that was moving in but at that time is was still ok to fly. We attached the ground wheels to the skids ready to move the helicopter to the main runway for take off. We removed the railings and once again with willing volunteers we pushed it out to a safe distance. The flying of the model aircraft finished slightly late and as we started to push the Huey out onto the runway it started to rain. After much huffing and puffing 509 was in position with its nose into wind. We put a call in to Blackpool who told us that the cloud base was down to 400 feet, it was no go. No point taking off, if you can’t land. We decided to sit it out for a while but it was clear it wasn’t going to improve any time soon. We made the decision that we would have to wait until morning.

We moved the Huey back from whence it came, with Phil on the stinger to counter balance the machine, this time we attached a bridle to the front of the skids and towed it with a Cherokee. We commandeered the MVT tent as all our camping gear was loaded in the Huey. This time we secured the doors to stop anyone trying to get in so that Bradley could at least get a reasonable night’s sleep. Once again those around us rose to the occasion and helped us out in our somewhat unexpected situation.

Monday morning dawned bright and clear. Now there was much more space around us so with the help of Bradley behind the wheel of his mini we towed 509 to the centre of runway 17. Pre flight checks all done and we were ready. We contacted Blackpool Airport and then Phil went through the start up sequence and was happy we were good to go. He pressed the starter and the power gauge rose. At 15 percent the rotors started to turn, the power continued to climb. At 40 percent the starter button was released, power continued to climb and then, without warning the engine died. We both looked at each other and then immediately to the front to see what Bradley’s reaction was. He was as surprised as us but he wasn't looking agitated and pointing to the engine so we knew there wasn't a fire. We waited for the blades to stop rotating until we went through the start up procedure. Again the starter button was pressed, this time we were a little concerned about the state of the battery as it had spun everything up to speed once already. The blades turned at 15 percent, the power rose as the engine took, 40 percent was reached the button released and the power, to our relief, kept climbing. This time the engine had started properly. We checked the T's and P's and watched as everything reached their operational settings. We radioed Blackpool and the big bird took to the sky. A short hover taxi to the centre of the main runway gave Phil time to check everything was as it should be. He gained altitude and he turned 509 hard to the right and lined up for a fly by for those who had waited patiently on the ground to watch us depart. Some fifteen minutes after we lifted out of Woodvale we were landing at Phil's place, relieved there weren't any other complications and extremely pleased at how the weekend had gone.
We would like to thank the organisers of this great rally for allowing us to attend. We all had a great time!!

Thank you letter
Certificate from NW air ambulance
NW air ambulance "thank you" letter